Saltwater by Jessica Andrews

I am a bit conflicted by this Portico Prize winner. The writing is good and in places very good and you can tell that the author writes poetry, but what I didn’t get was the sense of story in terms of a narrative arc. It feels like a fictional autobiography – how fictional I do not know, perhaps not very.

The writing jumps around as it is written in short chapters perhaps mirroring the memories that Lucy has, moving from one thing to another without necessarily having a link that can be seen. I have read other books written in this way such as No One is Talking About This and everything is under control. Is it a trend or a valid way to explain something? I am not sure.

I found the parts that describe her relationship with her mother particularly visceral and difficult as Lucy’s relationship with her waxes and wanes.

There is a silver in the back of your eyes. Glinting, dangerous. A hard, tinny feeeling you do not want me to know. You hide it during Coco Pops and on the walk to school but later when you are alone and staring at he window it leaks out. I want to feel everything you do. I want to know the silver too but you draw me close and squeeze me tight and I can’t make the words come. The metal lurks between us, cold and dazzling.


I didn’t feel that this need to ‘be’ her mother and feel everything that she did was really explained in terms of the reasons why. Perhaps it was because this is what happens when one parent is an alcoholic. The child become hypervigilant and protective of the other parent and this goes on for a long time only ending when the alcoholic dies.

The book is a coming of age story as Lucy grows up in Sunderland, spends holidays in Ireland and then leaves home to go to University in London where she toned down her accent. She then travels to Ireland to take up residence in her Grandfather’s house, to rest and recover from her time in London and to join her body and mind together again.

The description of her life as a teenager gave us more detail than other events: the music, getting drunk and smoking, mephedrine, waking up not sure where you are and what your make-up looks like and then crawling home. Whilst the first year at university was uncomfortable, she grew into it along with the academic rigours, being fully comfortable with both just as she graduated. I wasn’t entirely sure what she needed to recover from in Ireland. So little is explained, more vignettes are drawn and I am left wanting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *